Article Comment 

Religion, happiness and education levels




Guest editorials the Natchez Democrat and the Biloxi Sun Herald citing the latest Pew Forum results, pats us on the back for our top position as religious believers along with our elevated status as some of the happiest people in the country. Noting that we seem to fall into last place and flounder in so many other categories, I couldn''t help but wonder if there was a correlation in the findings and, if so, the reason. 


A search on the Internet (level of education vs. belief in religion) revealed some interesting data. I found that many studies on this subject have occurred and the results consistently show that as education levels decrease, as unquestioned belief in religion increases.  


Results also show that the most fervently religious can, as a group, suffer from lower IQ''s which are passed to their offspring, perpetuating the problem. Additional information indicates the same correlation exists with the non-acceptance of evolution. These results exist, not only in this country, but worldwide.  


The most highly developed and educated countries with the highest standards of living show the lowest rates of belief in religious thought. On the bright side, studies found that educated people utilize attendance at church and related activities to enhance and enjoy social interaction and assist their communities; yet this group is less fundamentalist in their beliefs. 


Educational factors may not be the only reason for our elevated religious ranking but are a strong indicator of economic success, something we need to improve upon. Perhaps, while patting ourselves on the back for our latest position, we should realize that there is much left to accomplish if we are to make headway in other categories. It would be a shame for Mississippians to prove the old adage, "Ignorance is bliss." 


Three of many references found using the search terms above: 


Georgia State University, 


Gallup Poll 2006, 


National Bureau of Economic Research 2001 


Laird Bagnall, Columbus



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Reader Comments

Article Comment bear commented at 1/10/2010 2:45:00 PM:

Laird, in my family of believers there are 2 PhD's, 2 Md's, 3 Master's degrees, and a JD among the many Bachelor's degrees. We are blessed to be educated and succesful, and feel that this is a direct correlation with our faith in God. While you are quick to question the happiness of others, and equate it to ignaorance I wonder just how happy are you?


Article Comment Laird Bagnall commented at 1/10/2010 8:22:00 PM:

Dear Mr. Bean:

I thank you for your input concerning my letter to the editor.

I reserved my original response after the first guest Op-Ed due to the delicacy of the subject but decided to submit my letter when the second Op-Ed appeared. Due to the nature of the topic, I carefully chose my phrasing of salient points, trying not to offend but rather to educate the public as to my findings without opinion. Granted, my questioning of this particular item may reveal something of my feelings on the matter, but my investigation was free of prejudice. I just wanted to find out why. I feel that there are reasons for every finding and it is up to involved and interested citizens to become educated in subjects of interest rather than to accept the good or the bad at face value. I appreciate your research of my sources and, as I indicated, there were many others that I failed to mention including findings related to the Intelligence Quotient. I included the search terms so that interested parties research for themselves without prejudice.

Your points though are well taken. I enjoy living in Mississippi and this area due in large part to the moral posture of the community with its reliance on strong faith and an abiding belief in Christian values. In too many communities across the U.S. we see a breakdown of the thin veneer of society at levels not experienced here in the Golden Triangle. The fact that many people in the state enjoy the spiritual guidance afforded by membership and participation in organized religion surely must have bearing on levels of charity and humanitarian support at all levels of the community. I agree that this acts as a strong foundation for building upon the other factors that would enhance our standing in other measurable categories.

Be that as it may, the studies I uncovered do show that there is a negative correlation between levels of education and levels of religious belief. You rightly pointed out that in the one reference, socialist countries may exercise control over education and therefore religious belief but your assumptions about those countries may go too far. When I researched "Countries with the highest standard of living" and "Most highly educated countries", the list included Canada, Japan, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia, France, New Zealand and the U.S. These democracies are not known for limiting free thought and in many cases are more liberal than the U.S. concerning societal matters. I agree that the most extreme and controlling countries of the world dictate much to their citizens but they do not make these lists. I discounted them as indicators as they didn't fit the criteria.

Thank you again for your thoughtful response. You put a finer point to my letter although I believe we are on the same page.


Article Comment rightuptherewith... commented at 1/11/2010 12:56:00 PM:

You know, someone in recent memory did a similar study and reached the same conclusions on the correlation between race and intelligence.

Not everyone is blessed with educational opportunities. Some people have achieved great success with very little or no formal education.

For some people, their faith is the only thing they have ever been able to depend upon to get them through tough times, while others just buy their way out.

Many of the countries you hold up as examples of higher standards of living also have a higher tax rate so that the government can provide that standard of living. I believe that is called socialism. Economics are one thing; standard of living is quite another.

It should also be noted that the level of formal education does not have anything to do with a person's basic intelligence. I once knew someone who had a bachelor's degree from a fine institution, but had no idea where to put the laundry powder in the washing machine. Book sense is a fine thing, but it takes much more than that to navigate the majority of life situations. Your "study" fails to factor in common sense, people skills, or street smarts. Those are all very important parts of "getting along" in this world, which is tied to happiness.

Incidentally, I'll join the first responder's observation and add that in my family, nearly every family member of my generation possesses at least a bachelor's degree. Going back a generation, there are 3 masters and one PhD, and several bachelor's degrees. And all of these people, oddly, are very strong Christians of great faith.

Your comments regarding passing along to their offspring, contributing to the "problem", are positively revolting and reminiscent of others who have held the belief that there is a way to achieve a supreme version of mankind. Frankly, I might applaud your sincerity, though more likely only your curiosity, and might assume that you have had some formal education. However, you seem to be lacking in people skills. Who is to say which skill is more important? I have seen doctors who are fine doctors, well-versed in their fields, with wonderful people skills. I've also seen those who apparently only got through because they had the ability to memorize and then regurgitate the required information, with no common sense, and zero people skills.

Studies and statistics can be skewed to achieve any particular result a person desires. Maybe it would be interesting to study the correlation between people who eat grapefruit and religious beliefs.

At the end of my life, if I am fortunate enough to have a small window to give one last thank you, trust that it will not have anything to do with the formal education I received years ago.


Article Comment Laird Bagnall commented at 1/11/2010 7:03:00 PM:

To rightuptherewith: I concur with many of your remarks although this discussion is beginning to wander from my original objective point. Your recollection of a similar study concerning race has no bearing on this discussion nor is it valid. Race was not discussed, inferred nor investigated in my comments. Disturbingly, this discussion is drifting into the realm of opinion and supposition, something I never expressed or intended in my letter to the editor. However several of your points deserve some clarification.

First, many of the countries I cited do have democratic socialist political structures. It is hard to find advanced countries that don't. It follows that in order to support their elevated standing, they must have high levels of liberal education, a factor at odds with more totalitarian governments who suppress or compete with religion. The socialist structure of their economies, which are global like ours, and their tax rates have no bearing on this discussion that I can determine. They are free to exercise religion to the same degree and fervor that we are.

Secondly, you stated that "It should also be noted that the level of formal education does not have anything to do with a person's basic intelligence." I agree with your example but submit that "basic intelligence" and IQ are two different things. My comments concerning IQ are based on an understanding that it is a measure of relative intelligence, which is determined by a single or a set of standardized tests. It mirrors the mental agility of a person. As such, IQ can be improved through education and other positive environmental factors where involved and structured parenting is vitally important. Reading, music and exposure to mental stimulation at an early age can increase IQ as much as 15 points. Some studies show even more impressive results. Dropping out of school, can decrease IQ. The graduation rate in Mississippi hovers in the 60 percent range. I'm sorry you found the research concerning IQ "revolting" but I think you misunderstood my point and what IQ indicates. Personally, I find the high school dropout rate in this state revolting when we have to compete with more educated states and countries. Below is a reference concerning IQ and IQ testing:

Additionally, I would point out that the internet findings are not specific to individual cases but are indicative of large groups of people across wide spectrums. It should go without saying that there are exceptions to every rule.

To your last point, I agree that statistics and studies can be manipulated but if you find that my research is in error concerning religion vs. education I would be interested in your references as I was not able to find anything to the contrary. Thank you for your thoughts.


Article Comment Abraham commented at 1/12/2010 4:41:00 AM:

One problem with these studies is that it takes for granted that evolution is on good scientific footing. Scientific facts, stripped of naturalistic bias, do not support evolution. There are many accredited scientist who do not accept evolution. And there have been many scholarly books pointing out the deficiencies of evolution. This theory is mainly kept afloat because our educational authorities have embraced the religion of humanism and they seek to exclude rivaling opinions just like the priests did in the days of Galileo and Copernicus.

The true reason why evolution in this country has such a hard time is that many scholars have presented the evidence that refutes evolution. I suspect that if the general public in Iceland were educated with the facts, they would not embrace evolution so warmly either. This is the true reason why proponents of evolution like Eugenie Scott do not want the other side to be heard in schools. When both sides are presented to students, they will reject evolution. And that rejection would have nothing to do with religion.

Another problem with these studies is that it does not take into account the reasons why people embrace religious ideas. Some embrace religious ideas because of tradition. For this category of people, there might be a negative correlation between education and religion. But there are many religious people who have what has been called an "intelligent faith." This category includes (but not limited to) many former atheist who now have "faith" because the evidence for evolution was weak and the evidence for God was greater. They have looked at created things and have seen the same evidence that atheist Richard Dawkins has seen. He said that living things give the appearance of having been created. This latter category of religious people reasoned that living things give the appearance of having been created because they WERE created. And notice that it is not religion that determines that "appearance of having been created." It is our observation of the evidence.

The first category of religious people might "see the theory of evolution as a threat to their religious beliefs." The latter category welcomes scrutiny and debate on this topic.


Article Comment Abraham commented at 1/12/2010 4:53:00 AM:

Your study said that many people dismiss evolution because they don't understand it. I disagree with that statement. But there are countless other individuals who accept evolution because they have not completely considered the theory in the light of relevant evidence and reasoning. They accept evolution on the basis of "faith" in the evolutionist scientist, not the evidence. The study says the public does not understand genetics. There is not an evolutionist living or dead who can or ever has explained how essential organs like kidneys, four chamber hearts, livers, and lungs can develop step by step genetically, with the fundamental requirement that each transitional organism must be functional at every step of change.

Another error in one report was that politics has hindered evolution. The truth of the matter is that many people, knowledgeable about the evidence against evolution, have used their rights as citizens to influence the biased way evolution has been presented. We should ask, "Why are evolutionist upset because citizens encourage their representatives to stop this biased (one sided) presentation of evolution?" The answer is that they don't like competition.

Another false claim echoed in the "study" is the alleged importance of evolution. Evolutionist, it seems, would have us believe that a person could not discover cures for diseases, be a good astronaut, understand how cells work, or be a good computer engineer if he does not believe the mythical idea that all the complexity of life came about from genetic accidents called mutations. That false claim by evolutionist is a shame all by itself. Dr Walter Lammerts is "the UCLA prize winning geneticist who was the first president of the Creation Research Society." This man, like many others, has contributed to science without believing in evolution.

The report tells us evolutionist are unhappy with the coverage of evolution in text books. What that really mean is that they only want one side to be presented in those books. But what relevance does this have as to whether evolution is true?

The author said, "People with more education were found to be more evolution-oriented, meaning they are accepting of the theory and supportive of it being taught in public schools." To make that statement true, we would have to make it read "people with more one-sided education..." No matter what level of education, whether high school or college, there is always only one side presented. And that is the biggest factor that determines why our educational system produces evolutionist.

In addition to this, I think many people accepting of evolution are more comfortable with a non religious explanation of life. And many of them are ignorant of the grave challenges to the theory of evolution.


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